The below guidance is factual; however, the examples and stylized commentary belong to the writer and do not express the sentiments of the Department of Defense. This guidance is meant for Title 10 service members only as certain details differ for elements under other areas of the U.S. Code.

Have you ever been unsure about expressing your political opinion because you are in the military? Do you question what you are allowed to do or say? We have all heard people say “you sign your rights away when you put on the uniform.” That is a MYTH and a damn dangerous one at that. As a service member, you maintain most of the rights afforded to all Americans under the First Amendment.

In the military, we only ever see two schools of thought on political activism: Firstly, the E4 wearing his uniform at a political rally, and secondly the warrior-monk general officers or imitation lieutenants who preach political abstinence. In reality, there is a far greater range of acceptable activities for you to engage in as a responsible citizen-soldier.

Of course, given the position of trust bestowed upon you by the American people, there are caveats. (And no I can’t string three sentences together without using the word “caveat,” I’m in the Army, after all.) These caveats exist so we can maintain the public’s trust. And the public trusts that we will follow the orders of elected officials and not take up our arms in support of a wannabe dictator with a God-complex, as we’ve seen in military coups around the world.

The United States Military does not discourage political awareness and activism for service members as long as you adhere to certain guidelines. Your restrictions are vaguely summed up in DoD Directive 1344.10. Between this directive and several court cases over the years this issue is about as clear-as-mud. But since no one is going to read the reference or the judicial findings, keep reading here for a less yawn-inducing break down that even a Marine might understand.

The major prohibition is against any type of partisan activity. A partisan activity is defined as “activity directed toward the success or failure of a [particular] political party or candidate for a partisan political office or partisan political group.” STOMP STOMP STOMP. Remember this. If your political statements and actions are not partisan, you are on the right track.

There is a big difference between engaging in partisan activities, as defined in the Directive, and taking political action about an issue you care about. It does not matter if that issue happens to be promoted by a particular political party. There is a difference, for example, between saying “Down with Trump!” after seeing a tweet about immigration, and saying “We should protect all refugees seeking asylum!” There is a difference between saying “The Democratic leadership are crooks; lock them up!” and ,”Laws apply to all citizens of the land. We should ensure our elected officials never abuse their power!” As always, context matters. If your statements are perceived as disloyal or promoting resistance to U.S. policy concerning war or other national interests, there is potential for some raised eyebrows. Tread lightly.

There are few limitations, however, on directly naming and criticizing non-elected, non-governmentally appointed, private individuals. For example, you are free to publicly proclaim, “Bill Gates is Satan’s puppet on earth!” and there is no safe space for Sean Hannity when you call him a “moron” and say “FOX news is pure garbage.” It is your right to say this, post it, write it on a sign, etc.